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A Seasoned Mama’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays

It seems that the winter months are all about survival. We just want to make it through the snow storms, through the cold and flu season, and through the line at the mall to get pictures with Santa. We just want to make it through crowds at Walmart without losing what precious little is left of our sanity. We just want to make it through that office party, that trip to our in-laws, that school event for which we offered to bake 12 dozen cookies.

We just want to make it through the holidays.

Have no fear, Mama. After years and years of doing it wrong, I’ve finally learned how to do it right. Here is my tried-and-true guide to not just surviving the holidays but actually ENJOYING them.

Tip #1: Plan ahead.

I know that sounds obvious, but hear me out. I’m not suggesting that you plan your Christmas Eve dinner menu in October, but rather I suggest that you decide early on what you feel like taking on and what you need to turn down. This is especially true for those mamas who are geographically single this holiday season.

Does your family AND his family expect you to make cross country trips to visit them this winter? Decide now what you can and can’t do and let people know in advance. If you wait until you’re invited, there’s more likely to be hurt feelings.

So get the word out ASAP that you’ll be visiting your parents for Christmas and that when your warrior gets home next spring, you’ll all be making a trip to see his family. Is it easier for you to invite family to come visit you? Send the invitation out now before Grandma starts inviting everyone to her house.

Decide in advance whether or not you want to participate in your kids’ class parties, the church parties, the neighborhood parties, your friends’ parties, the office parties, the military parties, etc. Maybe you only want to do one holiday party a week in December.

Maybe it’s too hard to make plans with friends for Christmas, so you’d rather wait to see them on New Year’s Eve. Maybe you want to do your Black Friday shopping with your mother-in-law this year instead of going with your sister but you’d like to go shopping with your sister in December. Just make a plan early and let people know that this year your goal is to enjoy the holidays hassle-free.

Tip #2: Set priorities.

Again, it sounds obvious, but I was surprised to realize how often I didn’t actually follow this piece of sage advice. Is there something you look forward to every year like a holiday parade or a local holiday fair? Put that on the calendar. Do your kids even want to sit on Santa’s lap? If not, skip it! Do the things that mean a lot to you and your family. So many times we feel that we are “obligated” to do things that we’re really not obligated to do at all.

Is your hair dresser really going to be hurt if you don’t swing by for the salon’s annual holiday open house event? Probably not. Bring her some cookies the next time you go in for a cut and color, and I’m sure all will be forgiven.

Is it most important to you that you get to visit your grandparents this Thanksgiving? Then make that the priority and work other plans around that one. It’s OK to set priorities. Everyone wants to feel important, but not everyone can be the most important priority.

Tip #3: Focus inward.

This is part of Tips #1 and #2. Let everyone know from the beginning that you plan to focus on your immediate family this year. People are less likely to be offended if you let them know that this year you’re focusing on your kids.

If Great Aunt Ida is still hurt that you’re not trekking across the frozen tundra to visit her, promise her that you will be making special memories with your kids and that you’ll send her some photos of you doing just that. Ask the kids to make a small bucket list of activities that they would like to accomplish over the holiday season, and unless Ida is on that list, don’t worry about that visit this year.

And make sure your kids know that they are your priority. It can be a busy season, so make sure you’re taking time to find out what they want to do over the holidays … and then do it.

Tip #4: Keep old traditions, and make new ones.

When my babies were still babies, I used to worry a great deal about our holiday traditions. There were certain traditions that I grew up with that I knew I absolutely had to continue. But what new traditions did I want to add? And how do you just go about starting a new tradition? And what if somebody gives me a great idea five years from now, and I like that tradition but I haven’t always done that thing with the kids – can it still be a tradition? 

My oldest baby is now 17 years old, and I’m happy to say that some of my childhood traditions have continued. Every Christmas Eve night, our five kiddos get to open a present under the tree — a pair of Christmas pajamas. Then we read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and the Christmas story from my daddy’s Bible. Every Christmas morning, I make the same breakfast that my mama used to make. Those traditions have continued on, and I hope someday that my kids will continue to pass these traditions on to their kids.

However, some of the traditions I tried to continue have fizzled over the years. We’ve only visited Santa two or three times. We don’t leave Rudolph carrots every year. But that’s OK because we’ve created new traditions, and most of them were just happy accidents.

One year I felt extra ornery, so when I wrapped the kids’ Christmas presents I put numbers on the gift tags instead of names. They had so much fun trying to guess who each present belonged to! So the next year I wrote cartoon character names on the gift tags instead. Now, every year we have a different code. They talk about this tradition all year long and look forward to seeing those first gifts under the tree, so they can begin trying to crack the code.

As the kids get older, some of our traditions have changed. Now that four out of our five babies are actually teenagers, I also have more help throughout the holidays. It’s fun to have traditions, but it’s also good to remain flexible and to allow change to occur.

You can create amazing holiday memories for your kids, even if they weren’t the exact same amazing memories you have from your childhood. In fact, they don’t even have to be the same traditions you kept last year. As the kids get older, they talk more and more about the traditions they love, and we phase out the traditions that don’t mean as much to them.

Moving from the Midwest to Florida also created a shift in our traditions. At first I worried about how we would be able to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas in Florida alone when we were so used to big family celebrations and cold weather. But our move opened up the door to create fun new memories like grilling out on Thanksgiving and going to the beach on Christmas.

What matters is that no matter where we are, we can embrace everything the location has to offer and create fun memories with our families.

Tip #5: Stop trying to be perfect.

Maybe this is more my problem, but I’m going to share it just in case there’s another perfectionist out there reading this blog and wondering how on earth she can create a perfect holiday season if she isn’t attending every party and following every tradition down to the tiniest detail.

It took me a long time to realize this, but now that my kids are older, I’m learning that they don’t want me to make everything perfect, they just want me to be present. 

In fact, have you ever realized that it’s our holiday mess-ups that are the most memorable?

My kids love my cookies, but they don’t remember every perfect batch I’ve ever baked. But they love to tell people about the time I got so busy talking that I forgot to put flour in my cookie dough. It’s one of their favorite memories.

It’s OK to say no, Mama. It’s OK to not do it all. It’s OK to go out for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s OK to skip Christmas and go on a cruise. It’s OK. 

Tip #6: Don’t do holidays alone.

For some, the idea of loading up the mini van and driving to Grandma’s house is a logistical nightmare that is to be avoided. For others, the reality that “home” is too far away to get back to is something that causes great sadness. Either way, holidays are a time of togetherness, and there’s never a need to spend them alone.

If you find yourself unable to travel home for the holidays, you’re likely to find someone else in your area in the same situation. Military families are often unable to travel home and can find comfort in spending the holidays together. This year we are celebrating “Friendsgiving” with two other families in our area, and our kids couldn’t be more excited! 

Don’t really have any friends who you can spend the holidays with? Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Offer to host single soldiers/airman/marines/sailors/coasties for dinner at your house. Do something un-traditional like spending the day at an amusement park, at the beach, going sledding, or doing some other activity that gets you out of the house and out with other people. 

Whether you celebrate Christmas or Kwanzaa or Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Halloween, or New Year’s Eve, holidays are opportunities for families to create memories. This might include immediate family, distant family, or friends that have become family.

However you choose to spend the holidays, I hope that you do more than survive them. I hope you create beautiful memories with your family and most importantly, I hope that YOU enjoy them, Mama. So pour yourself a cup of hot chocolate. Munch on some yummy gingerbread and relax.

You deserve it.

 

 

 

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